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Common Law Partner

There are many myths and untruths surrounding the term ‘Common Law Partner’ or ‘Common Law Wife’. In this blog post we take a look at what it means to be a Common Law Partner and what rights you have if you have been in a relationship for a long time but have not married.

What is a Common Law Partner?

A Common Law Partner is a term used to describe someone in a committed, long-term relationship who is cohabiting with another person. This type of family unit is the fastest growing relationship in the UK.

Unfortunately, many such partners have the misconception that their relationship is a form of “common law marriage” and that on the breakdown of their relationship they are offered similar financial safeguards as available to married couples under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

What is a Common Law Partner entitled to?

The reality is that unmarried partners have no legal rights or responsibility to share each other’s assets, save where there is written agreement (such as a cohabitation agreement), and even then it is no where near as easy to enforce as for married or civil partnership couples.  This is the case even where the relationship has been long-term with the couple occupying the home together.

However, there are some ways to increase the safety of assets brought to or shared in the partnership:

When a co-habitating couple buy a house in joint names, and have contributed to the purchase price equally or otherwise, the division of ownership is governed by property law principles. To ensure that any spoken agreement around joint ownership is given legal substance, both partners should ensure that their name and extent of ownership to the property is explicitly stated on the property transfer form (TR1) and that there is a trust in writing in place to record what has been agreed.

Entering a cohabitation agreement is a good way to reduce the bitterness and uncertainty associated with separation. This contractual agreement establishes what assets are to be shared upon separation and which are solely owned by one partner. This agreement is bespoke and tailored to reflect the individual relationship; determining anything from matters concerning the children of the relationship to how capital assets will be distributed after separation. It is important to update the agreement as circumstances of the relationship change, for example when children are born, or when substantial assets are inherited by one partner to ensure the no partners assets are not provided for and therefore disputed over after separation.

It is important to note that where there are children from the partnership, the primary care giver is entitled to receive child maintenance payments from their ex-partner through the Child Maintenance Service.

Current / Future Laws on Common Law Partners

Despite calls for reform by many experts in the field, any hope of a statutory regime giving legal effect to this partnership has been on hold since the Law Commission’s proposals were abandoned back in 2007.

Of more hope is the Cohabitation Rights Bill 2016-17 which provides that where the parties have lived together for a specified period (between 2-5 years as recommended by Resolution) and/or have a child together they would be able to apply for a financial settlement order. This order would reflect factors similar to those in section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, such as the financial needs of the parties and the standard of living enjoyed throughout the partnership.

Such change would, undoubtedly, be welcomed by legal professionals and the public; however, any change in the near future looks regrettably unlikely.

If you have any questions about these arrangements or wish to talk to one of our solicitors, then please contact us.

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